Girls Group Mentoring Toolkit

This Girls Group Mentoring Toolkit provides the tools, resources and support to create, implement, deliver and evaluate a quality group mentoring program for girls, ages 9-13, in your community. The Toolkit is intended to be used in a range of communities, and can be adapted to the unique values, needs, strengths and challenges that each community encompasses.

Program Population

Girls and Sexual and Gender Variance

“Stories of at-risk sexual-minority youth are increasingly being transgressed by stories of resilient sexual-minority youth who survive and thrive amid the risks and barriers they face daily.”

- Grace (n.d.)

Youth are often exploring the question of “who am I?” Sexual and gender identity is part of that exploration. Gender variance refers to those expressions of gender that do not conform to the dominant gender norms of Western culture. Sexual orientation relates to who you are attracted to romantically and sexually, whether to the same sex, the other sex or both sexes. This attraction usually begins during preadolescence, as puberty begins the production of sexual hormones. Gender identity is a different concept that involves an internal sense of being male or female (Healthwise, 2013). Though the language of gender identity is contemporary, people have challenged the stereotypical categories of gender for most of human history. Some gender variant youth may struggle with their sexual orientation, but this is not always or necessarily the case.

Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta runs a girls mentoring program in several northern, rural communities. In one of their groups, a participant shared that they did not identify with being a girl. It was requested that they be referred to as “he” and “him” and start using a different version of his name. The group created a space for him to talk about this and to share the challenges of addressing it with his family. The other participants provided support and he continued to participate in the group. It also created a valuable teaching moment for the other participants on diversity and inclusion.

LGBTQ is an acronym which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning. The term LGBTQ often encompasses additional terms such as Transexual, Two-Spirit, Intersex and Asexual. LGBTQ youth experience a range of challenges:

  • The fear of rejection, the challenges of coming out, trying to understand or form one’s gender and sexual identity, and the burden of social stigma and discrimination, in addition to the everyday stresses of street life, greatly impact the well-being of LGBTQ homeless youth in particular (Ray, 2006).
  • Lesbian and bisexual girls were more likely to report being bullied than heterosexual girls (Berlan et al., 2010).
  • Sexual minority girls are among those most likely to report suicidality—suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts. (Russell, 2003).
  • 82% of lesbian youth versus 60% of heterosexual girls sometimes feel unsafe at school (Saewyc et al., 2007).
  • Sexual and gender minorities experience higher rates of bullying and harassment in school.
  • In one recent study (Egale), LGBTQ students reported: 6 times as much verbal harassment about their sexual orientation; 5 times as much verbal harassment about their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity; twice as much verbal harassment about their gender and twice as much verbal harassment about their gender expressions of masculinity or femininity, as compared to non-LGBTQ students (Taylor & Peter, 2011).
  • LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population. It has been estimated that approximately 25−40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, meanwhile only approximately 5−10% of the general population identifies as LGBTQ (Josephson and Wright, 2000).

“Youth are also more accepting of others than they were 20 years ago. Among youth in grade 7−12 today, 59% agree with the statement ‘Gay or lesbian relationships are okay, if that is a person’s choice’,” compared to 31% who agreed with this in 1989

- Salmond & Schoenberg (2009).

Mentoring for LGBTQ girls can offer support through what can be a difficult, unsupported or stressful transition. Rummell (2013) summarizes how mentors can support and advocate for gender and sexual minority youth:

  • Advocacy through community access: Mentors can introduce mentees to additional community resources and networks, aiding the youth in building connections with others who are experiencing similar things and increasing their sense of belonging.
  • “Silent no more, [LGBTQ youth] represent a new generation of queer youth who have the knowledge, support, and confidence to speak out against homophobia and transphobia and demand that their human and civil rights are not only protected, but also respected.”

    - Wells (2012)

  • Advocacy through role modelling: Mentors can share their own stories and demonstrate to a mentee new ways of thinking about themselves and their experiences.
  • Family advocacy: A mentor can offer support during the “coming out” process to family members by sharing tools to prepare youth for the conversation and by providing ongoing support as the family processes their understanding of what this means for them.
  • Foster self-advocacy: When mentors build a trusting, caring relationship with a youth, a real opportunity becomes available to help youth find their own voice.

In addition, to support and include LGBTQ girls, programs and mentors can:
 

  • Create diversity-positive rules that do not tolerate homophobia, transphobia, bullying or discrimination. 
  • Participate in training on sexual and gender variance in order to empower through education and awareness.
  • Be positive role models that demonstrate acceptance and inclusion of all girls.
  • Support the youth’s self-definition and identity.

Mentoring opportunities for LGBTQ girls can be a positive and powerful way to encourage, empower and support youth.


Contact: mentoringgirls(at)canadianwomen.org